In previous papers we reported that D(-)-ribose and 2-deoxy-D-ribose, which rank at the top among reducing sugars, kill a variety of human and animal cells and cell lines. Here we demonstrate that these two sugars induce apoptosis in human quiescent peripheral blood mononuclear cells which are relatively insensitive to apoptosis. Apoptosis was assessed by morphological changes, DNA fragmentation by agarose gel electrophoresis and the appearance of an hypodiploid peak by flow cytometry. 2-deoxy-D-ribose was more potent than D(-)-ribose and apoptosis was evident from 48 hours of culture onwards. 2-deoxy-D-ribose-induced apoptosis was inhibited by N-acetyl-L-cysteine, suggesting that glutathione metabolism and/or oxidative stress are involved in this type of apoptosis. Thus, D(-)-ribose and 2-deoxy-D-ribose can be useful tools to study the cellular and molecular events of apoptosis in human quiescent lymphocytes.